City council explores new approaches to homelessness, lethal force


Julian Mendoza

Chico City Council Building on Sept. 2, 2020

Several approaches to the mental health aspects of homelessness, police brutality and lethal force were discussed and debated in Tuesday night’s city council meeting. However, the only specific decisions made were to end the shelter crisis that began in 2018 and to reject having a shelter at the BMX track.

A peaceful protest of Chico Police’s homeless camps evictions took place outside City Hall before the meeting.

The issues of homelessness and police brutality dominated the meeting. 

Julian Zenner, Grace Marvin and Emily Alma from Concerned Citizens for Justice advocated for changes to police training in response to officer-involved shootings related to calls involving those experiencing a mental health emergency.

Zenner expressed the nonprofit’s aim to make mental health personnel available to police 24/7 instead of just during business hours.

The nonprofit wants the Chico Police to implement a ride-along program in which mental health professionals work with officers to teach them de-escalation skills. They also want public funding for three officers to respond to “potentially lethal crisis situations” and further training in the use of non-lethal force. 

Lisa Currier, a Chico resident, suggested expanding crisis intervention training beyond just police and other first responders.

“But what if we set up annual training for anybody who wanted to come, such as the outreach people, homeless people, any type of person, so that way we can understand the baseline of folks,” Currier said. “So if I know that Scott is acting a little bit different that day, that person on the street or business owner or an outreach person can actually be called, and go de-escalate a situation.”

Shelby Boston from Butte County Behavioral Health outlined a number of programs during her presentation, including Project Room Key, a program that gives homeless people shelter in motel rooms.

“We as of today have 79 individuals who meet criteria that are currently in local hotels,” Boston said. “Sixty-four of those individuals are in hotels here in north county, 15 in south county. We’ve had 217 people that have successfully transitioned to permanent or transitional housing from Project Room Key, and we’ve served 502 since the program began.”

Chico resident Nichole Nava is happy to see more collaboration. 

“I did want to just say that I appreciate that it takes public works, and all other people coordinating — the Rangers, the police, etc.,” Nava said. “And I also very much appreciate that some of the service providers have stepped up to start verbalizing their openings more transparently more often. And I think that’s been a positive step for this community. I look forward to people partnering even more like that, so that we can get people quickly to services.”

Scott Connely from Behavioral Health explained that the only way a person can be put on a 72-hour 5150 hold is if they are a danger to themselves or others or if they are gravely disabled. Connely said the legal definition of the term “gravely disabled” has a very strict and outdated definition.

“There was a case recently where a woman was found eating a rat raw on the streets,” Connely said, “and she was not determined gravely disabled. She was psychotic. She believed it was a food from God. The judge determined, well that rat was a sustenance of some kind, that must be OK.”

The next city council meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 20 at 6 p.m.

Kelsey Ogle can be reached at [email protected] or @kelsey_ogle_ae on Twitter.